The Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy connecting Jesus back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Matthew starts Jesus’ story with this list of names because he is teaching his readers (mostly Jews at the time of writing the gospel) that Jesus was a descendent of Abraham. This is important since the promised Messiah would come from Abraham. Matthew spends a lot of time in his gospel telling his readers about Jesus’ fulfillment of the many different prophecies in the Old Testament.
Matthew 1:1-17 (the genealogy) is divided into three parts: 1) Jesus’ ancestors from Abraham to Jesse, the father of King David (about a 1000 years); 2) from David to the Babylonian Exile (about a 500 year period); and 3) the period between the exile and Jesus (about another 500 years). However, it is in the second section that some people may find a contradiction.
The second section (from David to the exile) covers the period of the kings of Israel and Judah. In total, Matthew lists fifteen kings of Judah. However, the books of 1 Samuel through 2 Chronicles list 21 kings and one queen. Is this a contradiction? The simple answer is no. Let me explain. (To make this topic an easier read, I have listed each of the kings of Judah in a table at the bottom of the article. The ones with an X appear in Jesus’ genealogy).
First, two of the kings in the list, Jehoahaz (# 19) and Zedekiah (# 22), were not part of Jesus’ ancestry. Both of them, along with Jehoiakim (# 20) were brothers and sons of Josiah (# 18). Athaliah (the queen, # 8) is not listed because she was not part of the ancestry and was a usurper of the throne. Obviously, Matthew did not include them for these reasons. However, the other four kings, Ahaziah (# 9), Joash (# 10), Amaziah (# 11), and Jehoiakim (# 20), were part of the bloodline of Joseph, the husband of Mary, but are for some reason excluded (see below).
There are two reasons to explain their absence. First, the Greek word (gennao), which is translated as begat in some translations, has the flexibility that allows the writer to skip over one or more generations if they want to. Why would Matthew want to skip over four individuals in the genealogy of his Lord and Savior?
Verse 17 gives us the answer. “Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.” Matthew structures the genealogy into three sections of fourteen people each. Since Matthew has the freedom to skip generations, he separates the genealogy of Jesus into three easy-to-understand lists that begin and end with a major part of Jewish history: 1) Abraham, the father of the Jewish people and the man who received a promise from God; 2) David, the great king of Israel, the man who killed Goliath the giant, and whose bloodline would supply the Messiah; and 3) the Babylonian Exile, the great disaster of the Jewish people.
Quite simply, there is no contradiction here. This should teach each of us to be careful when we come upon a difficult passage. Just because we think something doesn’t make sense doesn’t mean there is a contradiction. We need to learn the historical-literary context of the passage in question.
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The Kings (and Queen)
|9. Athaliah (Queen)|
|12. Azariah (Uzziah)||X|